Black in Marine Science (BIMS) Professional Wellness Retreat

Strategic Communications & Outreach Assistant Teni Burrows represented the Perry Institute and The Bahamas at the first ever Black in Marine Science (BIMS) Professional Wellness Retreat in Norfolk, Virginia. After a week of comradery and learning Teni said, “It felt like home to be surrounded by so many people that looked like me and shared the same love and passion for marine science, no matter which corner of the world they came from or niche of the sciences they work in.” 

As a member of the organization Black Women in Ecology Evolution and Marine Science (BWEEMS) Teni started 2023 at the BWEEMS Conference in Miami, Florida. Through active participation in the BWEEMS 2023/2024 Mentorship Program, she and 40 other participants received full funding to attend the BIMS conference. There she was able to connect with her mentor, other BWEEMS members, and be introduced to a broader collective: black marine scientists from across the globe

BWEEMS 2023/2024: Mentor/Mentee pairing Lys Isma and Teni Burrows meet in person for the first time at BIMS Week 2023

Black in Marine Science was founded in 2020 by Dr. Tiara Moore with a single tweet that sparked a global movement. After developing an online network of black marine scientists, the movement turned organization became set on a mission: “to celebrate Black marine scientists, spread environmental awareness and inspire the next generation of scientific thought leaders.” In November 2023 for the first time, Dr. Moore’s vision of a safe and supportive community was brought to fruition. At the Sheraton Waterside hotel, approved member and non-member applicants gathered under one roof to partake in a week-long wellness retreat-style conference thoughtfully designed to encourage physical and mental health and wellness, networking, and provide academic and career support. 

From Monday to Friday all hours of the day were strategically organized to factor in enough time for community discussions, keynote speakers, socializing sessions, self-care, and recovery. Attendees were encouraged to schedule time to take headshot photos with a professional photographer, do yoga or sound bowl sessions, participate in skill workshops like branding and social media, and even organize their own meetups on and off hotel property to explore the city of Norfolk. 

Daily Blue-Table Talk panels were hosted by a diverse group of individuals with an array of experience, talents and skills all connected to the topic at hand. In reflecting on her experience Teni said, “One of my favorite sessions was the marine table talk on the intricacies of the international marine science community. I deeply enjoyed the discussion because it highlighted how scientists separated by thousands of miles still experience so much overlap.” Teni also shared the excitement of keynote speaker Zandile Ndhlovu, professional freediver and founder of The Black Mermaid Foundation, who raved about being a part of a space that “not only celebrates black joy but amplifies it.”

International panelists from Dominica, Tanzania, South Africa, Trinidad and Belize take the stage to discuss the intricacies of the international marine science community

BIMS’ focus on health and wellness was well captured in the Bliss Lounge: a dimly lit silent room set to serve as the designated safe space for the week. In the Bliss Lounge attendees were invited to color, enjoy a massage from licensed masseuses, or simply rest in the nap areas. Throughout the week Dr. Kelsie Foster, a licensed mental health clinician, led community chats on the importance of self-care aimed at figuring out what self-care looks like for each individual and even offered private and group therapy sessions. 

Meal times and social sessions allowed time for networking- both socially and professionally. Conversations between oceanic and freshwater researchers, freedivers, underwater archaeologists, science communicators, social scientists, and educators opened the door to scientific collaboration, academic advice and career opportunities. The Sneaker Ball, a formal event with a fresh twist, was the grand event to end the week. 

Bahamian attendees Alannah Vellacott (Coral Vita), Teni Burrows, and Shania Brown (University of The Bahamas) at the BIMS Sneaker Ball

“Dr. Moore and the BIMS team created a space for black scientists to feel seen, heard and celebrated; a space that not only inspired and empowered, but also validated the skills and talents of black people in marine science in a world where it’s not uncommon to “have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” – Teni Burrows 

The Perry Institute thanks BWEEMS and BIMS for continuing to create safe spaces for minority communities in niche fields like marine science. With attendees from as far as London, Kenya, Brazil and The Bahamas, organizations like these truly excel at bridging the gap, creating opportunities, and inspiring change. 

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